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Christmas 2016


Just a few nights ago, I was returning home from a visit with old friends in Nassau County, and to make the drive a little more pleasant, I was listening to a radio station originating from Sacred Heart University in CT. It was their annual Christmas program featuring the St. Olaf’s Choir singing songs of the season. All of a sudden they started singing a carol I had never heard before, a beautiful melody, simple lovely words, the brilliant choir backed up by a full orchestra. It was breathtaking, so much so that I was tempted to pull over to the side of the road to listen in peace, but given the traffic, I figured that might turn out to be the last decision I ever made on earth, so I drove on. As soon as I got back to the rectory, I went to my computer and searched “St. Olaf’s Choir singing This Christmastide.” I must have listened to it and several other renditions of the same carol a dozen times or more. It really made my Christmas this year. Here are a few of the verses.

Green and silver, red and gold, and a story born of old.

Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.

 

From a simple ox’s stall, came the greatest gift of all.

Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.

 

Children sing of peace and joy, at the birth of one small boy.

Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.

 

Green and silver, red and gold, and a story born of old.

Peace and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.

 

Every year I find something new and refreshing and hopeful about Christmas, like this carol I heard for the first time on a drive home the other night. But on a deeper level, as I’ve grow older, my appreciation of Christmas, and Jesus whose birth we’re celebrating, has grown. In the great scheme of things, amidst all the craziness in the world, Jesus seems more and more central, more and more crucial and important to me and for the world. And it’s an odd thing: sometimes even non-Christians sense this. Early in November of this year, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen passed away. His best known song, “Hallelujah,” has become something of an anthem, turning up on TV and in movies and commercials. It seems to be everywhere, and deservedly so; it’s a beautiful, haunting song. Cohen was Jewish, but here’s what he once said of Jesus.

 

“I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of the earth. Anyone who says ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight . . . It is an inhuman generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced, because nothing could weather that compassion.”

 

You know, I’ve been a priest forty years, and I think I’d be happy if most Catholics nowadays had as deep an appreciation of Jesus as Leonard Cohen did. As for me, Jesus is Truth and Love and Hope incarnate; Peace and Joy too. He tells me who God is, what God is like. He shows me what real love is, not the selfish counterfeit that so often passes for love in our society. He models what I should be, and because I’m not what I should be, He is infinite, unchanging, mercy and forgiveness.

 

To give my life to Him as a priest seems a small price to pay for all He’s given me; no price at all, really, rather a privilege, at which I’m continually amazed and for which I’ll be eternally grateful.

 

I pray that Jesus may grow to mean more to each of you this Christmas and for all of your Christmases to come. I pray His peace and truth, His love and hope in you abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.

 

God bless and keep you all. And a very Merry Christmas.